Driving your own hype
As tech has evolved, so has the media landscape. Press releases and schmoozing over cocktails are outdated and ineffective. Today, ‘public relations’ more often involves working on link-building and influencer marketing strategies. Complicating things further are the blurring lines between editorial (unbiased articles written about a company after pitching a journalist) and advertorial (articles that companies paid for, which are flagged as such).
Yet, startups no longer need to hire an established agency – at a huge cost – when looking for PR. ‘One man bands’ and talented freelancers are cheaper and can offer a more focussed, dedicated approach than overstretched account managers. Before spending money on external help to amplify your brand’s message, it’s worth asking what you and your team can do yourselves.
Tighten up your social media
Social media serves as a digital window into a brand – and setting up your brand’s presence across multiple platforms comes at no cost. Consider spending a few months building up your followers by researching relevant hashtags, scheduling posts in advance, responding regularly and encouraging engagement. Make sure to post across platforms with a consistent tone of voice.
Look beyond the press release
Draw up a ‘hit list’ of the top newspapers, magazines and media brands in which you’d love coverage – then figure out story angles and how (and to whom) you will pitch. Try pulling together a list of each publication’s recurring features to see where you’ll fit in: management Q&As, product round-ups, gift guides, opinion columns, etc.
Most journalists will never have heard of your brand, so have a plan of how you’ll convince them of its brilliance. Slick, crisp, modern images can make or break a pitch – so it’s worth forking out for quality product photos and ‘lifestyle’ shots that show your brand in the wild. Once you’re ready to approach the press, spend time crafting email subject lines, which should be personalised and attention-grabbing. Remember that editors literally receive hundreds of pitches a day – what can you say to be different? Research by press release distributor Business Wire found the top pet-peeve for journalists is when PRs don’t research their publication – so a well-informed approach stands out.
Sending emails en masse may save time, but it’s probably ineffective. It’s better to concentrate on sending bespoke pitches to a handful of specific editors. Take your time. Make the pitch special and make it easy for the editor to say ‘yes’.
It’s better to run fewer accounts than let some platforms sit dormant. And while Instagram is probably the best platform for modern consumer brands, a fintech startup may decide LinkedIn is the better choice.
How – and when – to hire an external PR agency
If you’re stretched thin, looking to ramp up awareness ahead of an event or getting ready to position your brand in front of the right eyes (such as investors), consider investing in external PR. Most modern PR agencies offer a full menu of services from day-to-day press office functions, social media and influencer outreach to organising press launches and events.
Slick, crisp, modern images can make or break a pitch – so it’s worth forking out for quality product photos.
Whether you’re ready to agree on a retainer (a fixed-term contract) or a one-off campaign fee is often dependant on the story you’re trying to tell. If a brand is lucky enough to have 12 months of newsworthy hooks ahead of it (such as product launches), then a PR agency could be an essential partner. But be honest: do you have enough to say that it’s worth keeping a PR on retainer?
If not, consider hiring someone to help with a one-off PR push. Agree on deliverables – whether it’s pieces of coverage secured or number of journalists pitched. Some freelancers accept payment per piece of coverage, but working to a day rate is more common, generally £250 to £500. Boutique and smaller independent agencies usually work for between £2,000 to £5,000 per month, whereas monthly retainer fees in larger agencies can range from £5,000 to £10,000 and larger brands will start north of £20,000. Fees vary wildly depending on the sector and geography. On the plus side, rates can be negotiated.
→ Keep in Mind
Print newspapers work approximately two weeks in advance whereas magazines vary depending their cycle: monthly, bi-monthly, quarterly or biannual. This may mean you need to pitch Christmas in July. Another tip: journalists looking for case studies and commentary from brands sometimes post on Twitter using the hashtag #journorequest.
Co-founder, The Wern
Wern PR is a communications consultancy and training hub for startups, entrepreneurs and independent brands.
It’s an outdated myth that you need a rolodex or little black book of contacts to get press coverage (hello there 1995!). If you have a good story that’s relevant to an audience, this will win hands down.’
A great PR agency will be monitoring the media landscape 24/7, keeping you updated with issues in your industry and constantly suggesting reactive opportunities for you and your business to comment on.’
‘A blanket email, with a one-size-fitsno- one press release that goes far and wide does no favours for anyone.’
‘There are more than 30 million SMEs globally so you need to pull out the stories and narratives that make your business unique and stand out.’
Make sure that PR is feeding your business objectives and not your ego. Have a clear idea of who your target audience is and what’s influencing their purchasing decisions rather than trying to get featured in a title just so you can show off with your peer group.’
Things don’t always go to plan, but thankfully a PR team can always be on hand in the case of an unexpected incident. In the event of crisis, it may be worth consulting a crisis communications consultant before making a public response.
Such a spokesperson prepares for the worst, then works to mitigate any damage to the business by issuing official statements and monitoring any negative media. It’s best to get the facts straight, put together a response as quickly as possible and, most importantly, take responsibility. News moves quickly, so don’t give the press any more reason to dwell on your brand’s misfortune.
With a PR team that operates entirely in-house, Perkbox – a platform offering freebies to employees – has seen phenomenal PR success. On average they’ve secured 120+ pieces of coverage every quarter, which generally includes 10 pieces of national press. In 2019 they were named one of ‘Europe’s Fastest Growing Businesses’ in the Financial Times’s and in the Next Web’s ‘Hottest UK Startups.’
For London Dog Week, Perkbox invited 10 dogs into the office to celebrate ‘bring dogs to work’ policies.
Beyond traditional press pitching techniques, Perkbox have helped raise awareness through media events, from roundtables to ‘hot-desking at Perkbox’ press days. For London Dog Week, Perkbox invited 10 dogs into the office to celebrate ‘bring dogs to work’ policies.
Head of PR Alexandra Sanpera Inglesias believes they’re granted more control on messaging: ‘This allows us to jump on every opportunity, making sure we collaborate closely with press directly ourselves. We can also test and experiment new ideas better and more often.’